Skift Take

Of the big global hotel chains, IHG is so far leading the way in terms of a customer-centric cancellation policy. Its rivals should take note.

UPDATE: Hilton has pointed Skift towards a much more generous cancellation policy, than the one it originally gave us. The company is allowing those with existing bookings to cancel or amend free of charge, 24-hours before arrival, up until the end of April. The same is true for new bookings for any future arrival date. It effectively supersedes the information given on its March 12 press statement.

Wyndham has also updated its policy.

UPDATE 2: Marriott has now expanded its policy.

UPDATE 3: Hyatt has updated its policy.

ORIGINAL STORY: As lockdowns across the globe become more prevalent and travel increasingly slows to a standstill, booked travelers are moving fast to unwind reservations — and get their money back. Requests being lobbed at hotels reached a new, fevered pitch this week.

Here’s what Skift knows:

InterContinental Hotels Group is waiving cancellation fees for existing and new bookings at all IHG hotels globally for stays between March 9 and April 30, 2020.

The policy is currently the most generous of all the big global hotel chains.

“The health and wellbeing of our guests and employees is our highest priority. Given continued consideration of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, we know that flexibility is what our guests need right now and want to make sure they aren’t being penalised for changing their plans — that’s the responsible thing to do,” a spokesperson told Skift via email.

For bookings made via online travel agencies or other third parties, IHG said “guests should contact them directly, adding that it had “advised these companies of our cancellation policy and they should refer to their terms and conditions.”

Get the Latest on Coronavirus and the Travel Industry on Skift’s Liveblog

Skift asked IHG and six of the leading global hotel groups— Marriott, Wyndham, Accor, Hilton, Hyatt and Choice — about their cancellation policies in light of the outbreak and received a number of different responses.

This illustrates the difficulty in responding to a fast-changing global catastrophe but at the same time points to an industry that has perhaps forgotten to put the customer first.

Most of the changes outlined below are — at the time of writing — restricted to Asia and parts of Europe but with the virus spreading and many countries moving into a lock-down phase, many hotel companies are reacting late to events. Plenty of people who booked their trips in good faith, whatever the destination, will be reluctant to travel at the moment.

The world’s biggest hotel company, Marriott, is currently waiving cancellation fees for hotel stays through March 31, 2020 for guests travelling to 26 territories and countries in the Asia-Pacific region , including China, India, Thailand and Australia, as well as Italy. There is also some flexibility regarding stays in Saudi Arabia depending on the country of origin.

A spokesperson for Marriott said the company had been reviewing its policy since January 24.

“As more destinations around the world are impacted by significant increases in numbers of cases and/or government measures that make travel difficult or worrying for our guests, we are reviewing our policies and adding additional destinations as required,” the spokesperson said.

Guests who booked via third parties are advised to “contact their booking provider for information on their policies.”

Hilton is offering modification and cancellation waivers for guests traveling to, through or from China, Italy, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The time frame runs until the end of March, except for Italy, which covers the period up until the end of April.

As well as these countries, Hilton has likely reacted to the Trump Administration’s advice about heading to Europe and has expended the waiver policy to include guests traveling between the United States and 26 European countries from March 13 to April 12, 2020.

A spokesperson told Skift that this applied to all bookings, whether direct or through a third party like a travel agent.

A spokesperson for Accor pointed Skift to its dedicated loyalty website Accor Live Limitless. A statement says that guests traveling to or booking from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and South Korea will be able to “change or cancel a valid booking” up to the end of March 31. Accor doesn’t say whether there will be a cost involved and mentions a different process for flexible versus non-flexible rates.

“Accor has advised all its hotels to adopt flexible conditions in terms of cancellation or modifications for travelers to and from significantly impacted regions. Accor regularly updates this advice to hotels as the situation evolves,” a spokesperson said.

Choice Hotels said it offered “ flexible rates to our guests year-round” but that currently had penalty-free cancellations for two groups of customers:

  • Guests residing in China, South Korea, Japan and Italy with reservations at Choice Hotels in the United States and Canada.
  • Guests with reservations at Choice Hotels in China, Japan and Italy.

The policy runs until the end of March.

Choice is also offering compensation in the form of Choice Privileges points for advance purchase rate non-refundable reservations made directly with Choice Hotels on or before March 10, 2020 for travel through April 30, 2020.

Hyatt has pretty much the exact same stance as Choice and is waiving cancellations fees for:

  • Guests residing in Greater China, South Korea, Japan and Italy with reservations at Hyatt hotels globally.
  • Guests with reservations at Hyatt hotels in Greater China, South Korea, Japan and Italy.

The flexible policy runs until the end of March as well.

Hyatt, like Choice, is also offering compensation in the form of World of Hyatt points if guests with certain reservations decide not to travel. Both hotel groups also advise customers who booked via third parties to contact those companies directly.

Wyndham did not respond to Skift’s specific questions but an update on the company’s website, said: “Guests traveling to or from Greater China, South Korea or Italy with direct bookings for stays in any of our hotels through March 31 will have their cancellation or change penalties waived.

“We are also extending current Wyndham Rewards member status for all Gold, Platinum and Diamond members from our Greater China and Southeast Asia Pacific Rim regions through the end of 2021. We continue to monitor the situation closely.”

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Tags: accor, choice hotels, hilton, hyatt, ihg, intercontinental hotels group, marriott

Photo credit: A junior suite at the InterContinental Marseille - Hotel Dieu. Parent company HG has expended its cancellation fee waiver. IHG

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